5 tips for creating a fantastic first impression

“How long does it take to create a first impression?”

Two minutes? Twenty seconds? Two seconds?  Some psychologists* would suggest that the length is as short as one tenth of a second.  Therefore, before you have opened your mouth the audience are beginning to form an impression.

So whether you are delivering a high impact business presentation, delivering a presentation at a conference or even a sales presentation, here are a few simple tips to ensure that when you are presenting, you create a fantastic first impression. 

1.  Dress for the occasion

Bearing in mind that the first impression has already begun before you even open your mouth, what you wear really does count.

Two words can address the whole issue of dress code – dress appropriately.  By researching your audience you should have a good idea of what “appropriate” is for the occasion.  Business casual will usually suffice for those in the IT industry, while in the legal world a full suit and tie might be more appropriate.  Most would suggest over, rather than under, dressing.  A jacket or tie can be removed … trying to get your hands on a jacket or tie at the last minute, might prove a bit more difficult!

Don’t forget your shoes … as in, make sure they are respectable and clean.  In my experience women would usually be more conscious of their shoes than men.  However, I work with one CEO and he tells me that he will judge a person (male or female) by their shoes.

For those special, significant, speaking occasion, it is definitely worth having a special outfit and a pair of shoes that make you look and feel super!


2.  Good posture

Standing in a good stance is important for 2 reasons.  The obvious one – it will help you to look more confident to your audience.

The second one, is that research has proven that how you stand affects your cortisol and testosterone levels. Testosterone is essential for health and well-being, in both men and women.  Cortisol is known as the “stress” hormone.

In short, standing in a positive stance increases testosterone and reduces cortisol.  Standing tall not only makes you look confident but makes you feel confident.

See this brilliant TED talk by Amy Cuddy for the full story –  Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. I know I have shared this talk before, but it is so good, it is definitely watching twice!

 (Note, there has been some discussion recently as to whether the research carried out by Amy and her colleagues was somewhat flawed.  Regardless, I do believe there is huge merit in being conscious of good, positive, strong body language) 

3.  Look at them!

This may sound incredibly basic but, how many speakers have you seen who spend more time looking at their slides, the ceiling, or the floor, than their audience?

Please do not find a spot at the back of the room and fix on it.  You may have been taught that in school.  As a terrified teenager, this is an acceptable level of eye contact.  As adults, particularly in a professional sense, when you want to build rapport with an audience … looking at a spot at the back of the room will just not do the trick.

If you have difficulties looking your audience in the eye, try instead to look at an eyebrow – trust me, if there is more than a gap of 1 metre between you and them, they will not notice.  With a larger audience, say greater than 50, you will even get away with looking at their foreheads.

4.  Smile … or at least look pleasant

In China a smile is like a handshake.  In a presentation a smile can be considered to be a virtual handshake with the whole room.

If a smile is a bridge too far, try to at least have a pleasant expression.  However, if your presentation is delivering bad or serious news consider having a neutral expression.

5.  Pause before you speak

Silence speaks volumes.

Pausing before you speak gives you an opportunity to take a breath, ground yourself and gives the audience the impression that you are in control – regardless of whether you are flapping like a duck beneath the surface.  When you do speak – make sure that you have an attention-grabbing opening.

Now that you know how to create a fantastic first impression,  click here to find out how to communicate with confidence when presenting.

So, the next time you are standing before an audience remember to dress to impress, stand tall, look them in the eye, smile and take a good long pause – all before you open your mouth to speak.  It will all help you to create that fantastic first impression!

* “First Impressions,”  Psychological Science – Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, Princeton University

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